The world may not move to the beat of just one drum, but it does have some pretty messed up TV shows. As a kid, fewer shows had the psychotic impact on young lives as Diff'rnt Strokes. Each broadcast managed to mix blood chilling terror with corny jokes about Arnold's love of eating. Somehow managing to keep its laugh track on track throughout the constant tragedies, this show did its part to remind us that the world is a terrible place. What am I talking about, Willis? I'm talking about Five Episodes of Diff'rent Strokes That Scarred Me For Life…
Season 5, Episode 13:
The Bicycle Man
I started with the Bicycle shop episode because anyone who has ever watched this show probably screamed "BICYCLE SHOP!" as soon as they saw the article title.
I'm also including the full episodes of each of these horribly frightening memories. They are on Youtube - for now. Try to watch them before
Lisa Hayes has them removed for copyright infringement because she's a total bitch.
The Diff'rnt Strokes Bicycle Man episode holds the distinction of being one of the most messed up episodes in the history of TV sitcoms. From top to bottom, this one didn't need VCRs because once you've seen it, it's burned into your head forever.
Gordon Jump, best known until then as the lonely Maytag repairman, played Mr. Horton, a friendly bachelor bike shop owner. His sudden appearance didn't stop the show from suggesting he had known the family for a short while and had a fondness for them. But most of all, he had a fondness for Arnold Jackson and his faithful sidekick Dudley. He wanted to express his fondness to them through molestation. We all got to witness it, laugh track and all.
Mr. Horton's slow corruption of Arnold and friends began with dirty magazines and wine. The boys partook in the X-Rated material and even puffed some cigars. But before Mr. Horton turned the lights out and played Find The Cigar, Mr. Drummond arrived and ruined his terrifying fun. Although the two returned the next day, Arnold was still too freaked out to enjoy pornographic cartoons and decided to leave. No worries though. Horton assured young Dudley that there was plenty of fun to be had even without Arnold. In fact, he had a game all lined up with the bathtub called "Neptune - King of the Sea". Suddenly, the audience let out a shocked groan. With that, we went from comedy to sodomy.
When the police showed up later, Horton was arrested and a dazed Dud told his dad that "Mr. Horton tried to touch me." This implied that either Mr. Horton liked to take his sweet time or else we were santitizing things for television. Even as a shell shocked kid staring at the screen in horror, I remember thinking, "Nah. Don't care what he says. Arnold left a while ago. Mr. Horton nailed that kid."
And, with the airing of that episode, I stopped going to the bike shop.
Any bike shop.
Season 7, Episode 24
A Special Friend
Epilepsy is a very sensitive topic to young children. For those who haven't been taught what this illness is before witnessing their first seizure, the effect can be traumatic.
Sadly, that's what happened to Arnold Jackson and his step brother Sam when Karen, the mime they were suddenly best friends with for one episode, had an epileptic seizure while talking to them. It was awful. Poor Sam was scarred. After all, he had just seen this woman seemingly malfunction before his eyes and had no idea why.
Know who else experienced that?
Me. Me and every other kid who had just seen this sitcom go from jokes about jive turkey dancing to near death experiences in the blink of an eye.
I couldn't shake the image for weeks of this woman, in a clown costume, violently shaking on the ground while Sam screamed, "She's dying!"
The horror! They should have just dumped a bucket of pig's blood on him to complete the look. The producers obviously knew how traumatic of an experience it must be for a kid to witness a seizure without prior knowledge of what it is…and then showed it to kids without any prior knowledge of what it is! You bastards!
The fact that this Karen woman was dressed up like Charlie Chaplin only made it that much more disturbing. What level of hell was this plan dreamed up? The only thing that would have made this any more disturbing would be if she suddenly turned into a puppet and ate everyone.
Ironically, Mr. Drummond was worried about Karen being around his kids prior to her terrifying seizure and forced his sons to call off their out-of-nowhere best friendship with her. I guess he had learned his lesson from Gordon Jump trying to ring Arnold's bike bells and went to talk to this clowny chick. Glad he expressed concern over the good looking twenty-something woman and not the fat balding old man. I'm sure Arnold appreciated that.
But yeah. Even when no one is being threatened with rape and murder, this show is still frightening.
Huh? Oh. Yeah. Rape and murder. That's the next one. They still used the laugh track during it. I kid you not.
Season 6, Episode 14
Hitchhiking was a huge problem in the 1980s. There was none of that sexting and fancy Capri Sun jeans like these kids have today. We threw our thumbs in the air and caught a ride from a complete stranger to an REO Speedwagon concert and we loved it! Also, nine times out of ten, we were murdered.
So when Kimberly and Arnold went out to buy their dad a birthday present and spent all their cab money in the process, we held our breath in anticipation of what was to come. After numerous PSAs and After School Specials, these two Park Avenue screwballs were about to go hitchhiking. Oh ha ha. What type of crazy hijinx will they get into?
Yeah. That guy doing the taping is named Bill. He reminded me of Bob from Sesame Street. It made the whole thing so much more terrible than it needed to be.
Bill Bob had brought the eager Arnold and reluctant Kim back to his apartment under the guise of seeing his NASA memorabilia. Once there, he locked the astronaut wannabe in the bedroom while he made his creepy Bill moves on Kimberly. When the younger Drummond made too much noise during creepy moves time, he was bound with duct tape. Before he was gagged, Genius Jackson goes, "You're gonna be in big trouble when we get out of here!"
"We are getting out of here, right?"
Bill tapes his mouth, pushes the tape down and makes this scary face:
That's when part one ended.
Yeah. Choke on that for a full day.
After an evening of nightmares about Bill's scary face, part two began and seemed to be looking better. Arnold had managed to escape and made his way home. Unable to remember the place where his sister was about to be murdered, the precocious almost-teenager was put under hypnosis by police. When told to repeat a phrase that's pleasing to him, Arnold repeats the word "Hamburger." The laugh track plays. Ha ha ha. How funny. Kimberly's being violated with a toy spaceship and he's doing Garfield humor. Nice, jerk.
By the time the police find the hideout, Bill has moved Kimberly into the basement. He forces her onto the bed and just as he's about to rape her - the cops finally arrive.
Seriously. He was half a second away from to raping her. I saw this at 5 in the afternoon on Fox.
Kimberly escapes, tosses some sort of photography solution in Bill's face, and lets the police in to take him away. Afterwards, they all have hot cocoa and never speak of it again. Sort of like they did with the bike shop and the epileptic clown. That can't be healthy, can it? Major trauma - never again uttered. They might want to discuss it every now and then to stop it from happening again. After all, it might be a lesson that a younger member of the family could take tips from.
Season 8, Episode 1
For "Sam's Missing", Diff'rnt Strokes found a whole new angle on creepy kidnapping. Gone was silly Billy and his desire for sex and blood. That's short term. Enter Donald Brown - grieving father and kidnapper. He's in it for the long haul. He also had the whole Al from Home Improvement thing going on.
Early in the episode, we learn that Donald's son Tommy has passed away in a tragic accident, leaving his wife in a constant daze. In order to help heal her pain, Donald, on a trip to the corner grocer, convinces Arnold's new stepbrother Sam to join him on a search for his missing puppy. The ginger son of Phillip and new wife Maggie (now played by the shark jumping Mary Ann Mobley rather than Dixie Carter) was only too eager to help. When he did, he found himself in a new home. It was his new home and he best get used to it.
Don't believe me? Ask Donald. He had a nice way of driving the point home.
"You get this straight, Sam: This is your family from now on. Now, stay away from that telephone. You step out of line just once, and - Do you remember what I told you I would do? I will kill your parents, Sam. Do you hear me? Do you understand me?!"
Yeah. Again. 5 in the afternoon. Fox.
Once again, Strokes took a two part episode and turned it into pure terror. This poor kid tries to help someone find his dog and ends up in a scary new family? Know what I learned from all this? If my dog runs away, f**k it. I'll buy a new dog. I'm not getting sucked into The Grizzly Adams Family.
Big Daddy Phil even took to a local news station to offer a substantial award. His heartfelt plea is inappropriately followed by a bizarre policeman ventriloquist act. When the reward brings in a phone call, everyone gets excited…uintil finding out that it was all a ruse by someone trying to get their hands on that sweet Drummond money. Nice, huh? It was the final season and this show was going to make sure that we knew there was absolutely no hope in humanity left. Zero.
Eventually Sam finds a phone, makes a call, and he's rescued, but not before the damage was done. Not sure if they ever spoke about it again because the show ended. In fact, this episode's secondary storyline focused on the Drummonds doing a complete home makeover. The reason this was done was because, although it aired at a different time, this episode was the final one to be taped for the final season. The set is being torn down because…well, the set was being torn down.
But once again, as with all these stories, there was no gun present. You see, Diffr'nt Strokes made special sure not have guns pointed at anyone due to the sensitive nature of...ah, I'm kidding. Look…
Season 3, Episode 1
The Bank Job
The Bank Robbery episode was special for a number of reasons. First, it featured Tootie from TV's Facts of Life. Second, it was the one that kicked off the train. It kicked off the "Let's Make Some Really F**ked Up TV Sitcom Episodes" train. Picture Thomas the Train Engine on crystal meth.
What makes this episode so jarring is that it came out of nowhere. We began innocently enough with little Arnold asking Toots to be his "personal date" to the amusement park for the day. She accepts and everyone blushes. Oooooo!
He even stops to get some money at the bank because this is 1985 and people still do that. But when he enters the bank, Arnold (along with his dad and ol' Willis) are caught in the middle of an armed bank robbery. The kid gets a gun in his face from some bad guys who eventually take him hostage and use him as a bullet proof vest against the police.
I'm not kidding. Also, I didn't come up with the bullet proof vest joke.
"Mister, I'm too small to be a bullet proof vest." Laugh track.
This stomach turning storyline eventually culminated with the robbers negotiating their escape in Drummond's limo. But, at the last second, they decide to bring the Jackson boys along for the ride. When Phillip tries to protest, they literally rip them from his arms screaming.
At that moment, the police show up and save the day. Everything is fine and it's never mentioned again - as usual.
That's how it all started and it kept going from there. People say there was a Diff'rnt Strokes curse and maybe they're right. With a track record that included multiple kidnappings, trauma, and death threats, you'd be pretty messed up too. Some people are kidnappers. Some people are millionaires. Some people are epileptic clowns. It's just how it is. But together we'll be fine because it take diff'rnt strokes. It takes diffrnt strokes. It takes Diff'rnt Strokes to rule the world